Once a year Knox Heritage celebrates local preservation victories and recognizes the people who had a hand in those victories. Last night the event took place at the Standard and featured a number of awards, along with an interesting presentation by Thompson Mayes, Vice President and Senior Counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
In 2013 Mr. Mayes was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Rome Prize in Historic Preservation. He spent six months in Rome traveling to and studying historic sites and considering why we are inclined to preserve old structures – or spaces such as battlefields. He came up with a list of thirteen reasons which he formulated in a series of blog posts. You can also see a longer version of the speech he delivered here.
Old buildings and places, he said, give us a sense of continuity in our lives and with the lives that went before. They give us an opportunity to learn about what has gone before. We can learn of our ancestors and reference our own personal history through place. These places give us identity and community. We save them because of their beauty, their architectural achievement or because we consider them sacred – whether churches, cemeteries or battlefields.
We should also save them because it is economically and environmentally the right thing to do. When he spoke of sustainability, he included buildings of no historic import. Saving buildings avoids moving tons of debris to a land-fill, the polluting manufacture of additional materials and the transportation of those materials with fossil fuels. Often the structures are in walkable areas which avoids another building built in a place which requires cars. The argument was compelling.
The awards are spread throughout the county, so many of them were not downtown structures. Recognized with awards were: The Byrum Barn, the Given House, the Braude House, the Seymour-Tanner House, the Front Porch, Emerald Academy, the Martin-Russell House, the McFarland Garage, Riverdale School, the Margolin House, the Hammer House and the Ponder House.
Downtown efforts were recognized, however, including the home at 1302 White Avenue which was threatened with demolition by UT and which was subsequently moved. Not a great solution in that the home loses its context, but better than demolition. The Regas Building and Jackson Terminal were also recognized.
Robert Booker won the media award. Tennessee Theatre: A Grand Entertainment Palace, a book about the unlikely survival of the Tennessee Theatre was recognized and the Spirit of Kristopher Award went to the Knoxville Mercury. The City of Knoxville was recognized with the Preservation Leadership Award.
The person of the night, however, was Rick Dover. Recognized first by Mayor Burchett for his work with the Oakwood Elementary School, now Oakwood Senior Living, he was later recognized as preservationist of the year. In addition to work outside Knoxville and the aforementioned Oakwood School project, his company is also restoring and renovating both Knoxville High School and the Farragut Hotel. Certainly these are not small projects and they are important projects for the city.
The symmetry between Mr. Mayes’ remarks about the importance of preserving of place for its power to build community, to embody personal history and to remind us of those who have gone before, with projects involving a former elementary school, downtown’s first high school and a hotel many remember visiting for proms and other events, is clear. And the night served as a reminder that we are winning a large number of preservation battles in the city. It’s an encouragement for those times when demolitions seem to proliferate and defeats to preservation seem more common than victories.
In other business: Congratulations to Alex Thompson who, with a guest, will attend the Donna the Buffalo concert with free tickets from Inside of Knoxville. More giveaways very soon.